Temple Administration Today : How Hindus are responsible
By AIF Staff
Excerpts from a speech given by Dr. K Raman and Shri Rama Gopalan on Hindu Temple architecture and state of Hindu temples today and their administration today. The article talks about incidents in context of Tamil Nadu – but some specific points apply to Hindu Temples all over India..
….He has taken us to very great heights. Now I will have to bring us all down to reality and the situation on the ground so to say, of our temples today. So please forgive me. Recently I had toured some villages in and around Tiruchirapalli, near Thirumannor. There I saw a temple by the road side. A temple known in Tamil as ‘paadal petra sthalam’, a temple which had been sanctified by the presence of the nayanmars. This was a temple known as ‘naalwar paadina koil’ or the temple which had been visited by the four premier nayanmars. A very beautiful temple but you cant get inside the temple because there is a bus stand located right next to it. I do not have to say anything more. All the waters from the drain are let into the temple. I inquired about this state of affairs to an executive officer who sits inside every Hindu temple. Then I asked the people living in that place, people who worshiped at that temple about what they were doing about this outrage. Indeed what were they doing?
I had gone to a temple in a village in Ramnathapuram district. It was a small temple in a small village and you had to walk to the village by a narrow lane. The approach to the village was very difficult. There was a dead dog on the way to the temple. The smell was simply nauseating. Then I went inside the village and asked those people how they could live with the smell of a decomposing carcass. They told me that it had been a week since they had lodged a complaint with the local Panchayat but that the Panchayat had not acted upon their plaint. I asked them if they weren’t human too and finally got some of them to clear the dog from the pathway and buried it themselves.
Now who do we hold responsible for the state in which our temples find themselves – temples, which as Dr. Raman said, were the pivot and the heart of our society? We have only ourselves to blame. Only we are responsible. In yet another place, the deity is being carried around the town in a procession; four persons accomapnied him – one holding aloft the burning torch on the long pole, one person was playing the nathaswaram, and the third was playing the mridangam. It struck me that day that our Gods were indeed were forgiving and compassionate. The deity was listening to that nadawwaram which was not only being played off-key but also with total disinterest. These four persons were accompanying the Lord, not out of dedication or a sense of the greatness of their task but only because they had nothing else to do. This is the state of affairs today. Why is it that people do not take up temple work anymore? Is it that we are doing something else more pressing or that we do not have the time to spare? None of these . we lack shraddha and bhakthi. That is the bottomline and I hope and pray that such talks as are delivered by people like Shri Raman will change this situation and inspire people to give of their time and resources to the temples of India so that they revert to being the heart of our society yet again.
The fundamental question is why is there government interference in our temples? Our Chief Minister, during his previous tenure, had invited a group of persons to discuss the issue of temple administration. He had called everyone but as usual he hadn’t called certain people. People like me. But we forced our way into the meeting and asked him why the government should manage the affairs of temples when it doesn’t interfere with mosques and churches. The question angered him greatly and he said that until the Hindu temples were taken over by the government, people responsible for administering them were only looting temple funds. I said I didn’t know about that but what I know is how they are being looted under government management. There is a song that is being sung today. “We are atheists, we don’t believe in God, we don’t worship him. We therefore go to temples and stop at the hundial”.
The reason for this pathetic state of affairs in out temples is only because we, who call ourselves Hindus, we who pride ourselves in being Bhaktas, do not go to temples at all. Not as a part of our daily routine, not as a responsibility. Magnificent temples all over, but not a soul to be seen in any of them. I don’t know if it is the fruits of the punya of some Mahatma but now, we get to see some people visiting temples with great devotion on ‘pradosham’ days. Ditto for Vishnupathi. As I said, it is probably the blessings of some living or departed noble soul that our temples are seeing some activity at least on some days of the month.
What does a secular government have to do with religion? More to the point, what does it have to do with managing our temples? The funds of the mosques are with the Muslims and that is being used by them to propagate their religion and for other activities over which the government has neither any control nor any say. Similarly, Church property or real estate owned by the church and church funds are controlled only by the church and these funds and these properties are being used for the propagation of their religion which includes evangelization and proselytization. That being the case, why should the government administer our temples? To administer our temples, the government has usurped all temple lands and other moveable and immovable property, has assumed control of all temple funds and put the temples beyond the reach and control of the Hindu devotees.
It is to highlight this outrage, this injustice that the VHP undertook a padayatra from kanyakumari to Fort St. George. The government in our temples is like the snake in the grass. It will not move away easily. Indeed it will not move at all. It has to be forced out. Our temples generate 20 crores of rupees annually. Does any of you think that the government is going to relinquish control of a golden goose which is a perennial source of money for looting and misuse? So the government should get out of temple affairs and should hand over the temple administration to people of faith and who belong to no political party -retired judges, retired military officers and police officers, muttathipathis, aasthana adeenakarthas, and those organizations who exist only to protect Hindus and Hindu interests. These are the people who should be managing our temples, not the government and definitely not a government whose political ideology is atheism. We shall not stop or rest till we get this done.
What provoked this meeting was the diktat given to all temples by the Minister for HR&CE, Tamizhkudimagan, that all archanas in temples should henceforth be performed only in Tamil. This unwarranted and even insolent interference in temple rituals has enraged the Hindu community, many of whom have called me several times in the last few days, asking me to do something about it. Truth to tell, I was not surprised at the Minister’s remarks. Such remarks can come only from those who have no faith and who have no stakes in the well-being of temples. It is of course besides the point that the same Minister would not have dared to tell the mosques and the churches to conduct their religious services in Tamil.
It was around this time that I was asked to meet the Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker for some kind of a joint interview in the Kumudam magazine. I was loath to meet him because in recent days some very controversial and distasteful remarks about Hindus and Hindu Gods had been attributed to him by the media. He is reported to have said that it is only other religions which undertake seva or charity work for the needy in society and that the Hindus don’t have any social commitment. He is also reported to have said that archanas in temples will be performed henceforth only in Tamil and those Gods who did not understand Tamil, need not stay in Tamil Nadu. I was to comment on these remarks made by the Assembly Speaker. of the two issues that the Speaker has dared to comment, I will not respond to one because this is not the forum except to remark that the Speaker needs to inform himself better before he speaks. Hindus run fifty times more schools and hospitals than the Christian missionaries. The Christian missionary run hospitals and schools wear the symbol of the Cross, ours don’t wear any symbol. That is no reason to think that we do not have any social commitment or that we do not undertake seva work.
But let me respond to this Tamil archana issue. I asked the Minister whether he has issued the same instructions to the Muslims in the Mosques. To which he replied, ridiculously it seemed to me, that the Muslims spoke good Tamil. This is neither here nor there because he had not answered my question on whether he had issued similar instructions to the Muslims. And then I asked him if he has asked the Christians to translate Hallelujah and Amen in Tamil so that we all understand what they mean. I told him successive governments have undertaken to reform the Hindu religion, each according to its whims. So was it not time to reform the other religions too, I asked him. I could see that my questions had made him very angry but the point is he did not respond to any of them. He had no answers to give.
We have no objections to archanas being performed in Tamil or in any other Indian language but what we do object to is the reasons being given by these DMK men and what we do object to is this brazen interference in the religious rituals of our temples. They should stop with the hundial. They should not enter the garbha griha. The Gods understand all languages; they understand bhakti even when it is silent. So there is no need for the Minister to make an issue of what language is to be used to perform the archanas in temples. Similarly, the Speaker must also understand that the Gods who can hear the ants creep on the ground don’t need language lessons, not even from the Speaker. In this very hall, nearly eleven years ago, in 1986, there was a discussion between me and Professor Ma. Nannan, whether we needed to learn Hindi or not. He was accompanied to this venue by several Tamil bhaktas carrying arms. It is the same kind of people the Tamil bhaktas who are today demanding that archanas in temples be performed in Tamil. There is a fringe group among them which, year after year, in Thiruvaiyaru, in January when musicians gather to offer their anjali to saint Thyagaraja, who gather in significant munbers to create a disturbance demanding the anjali be performed in Tamil and not in Telugu or Sanskrit. The same kind of people.
Until recently, it was the custom to perform the archana in tamil on demand from the bhaktas. Any bhaktha could ask for the archana to be performed in tamil and it was done. The archana is performed inside the garbha griha. Most of the time, we do not hear the mantras. So how does it matter anyway in what language it is performed, as long as it is performed with devotion. As I see it, their aim is not to foster Tamil. If that were their objective, Tamil could be fostered in a thousand other ways. Their objective is to rid tamil nadu of Sanskrit. Not that they will succeed. But go to any nook or corner of India and you will find that no matter what language or dialect is spoken there, it will have at least a few sanskrit words in it. Sanskrit unites the people of this country. These Tamil bhaktas are political separatists. So they have an ulterior motive for wanting to rid Sanskrit from the state. And even otherwise, these are people who if they were not in government, would not even enter the portals of temples. Speaker Palanivel Rajan told me he goes to the temple everyday to offer worship but that he will stop doing so if opposition to Tamil archanas mounted. I told him his not going to the temple anymore would have no impact upon the Gods and that the loss was his, not the temple’s.
The temples of Tamil Nadu are not for the people of Tamil Nadu alone; they belong to every Hindu in every part of this globe. The Hindu of this country is a mild-mannered person, as an individual and as a community. So anybody can say anything to abuse Hindus and Hinduism, they can interfere in our religious rituals and we accept everything meekly. But not some of us. It is time we told the government firmly that it is time it got out of temple affairs, it should not intrude into affairs which are not the business of a secular government and also that it should leave the administering of temples and temple affairs to Hindus and to Hindu bhaktas.
When Tamizh Kudimagan became the HR&CE minister he announced that every temple should adopt a school. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it. But it is nothing but a cunning ploy. Eighty percent of our temples are in dire straits. They do not have the wherewithal to perform even one pooja in a day to the deity. There is no oil for the lamps, there is no camphor for the deepa aarthi. The poojari in such impoverished temples will snuff out the lighted camphor after the aarthi – something that is inauspicious and never to be done. But he has to conserve the camphor for the next bhakta. That is the extent of impoverishment of our temples. Then how can such temples which can barely survive themselves, adopt a school? Again, it is clear that he will not ask churches and mosques to do the same. Let me hasten to add, we don’t want them to adopt our schools, but the fact remains that the Minister can issue such untenable instructions only to Hindus and their temples.
In Tamil Nadu there are 25,000 temples. Shri R.S.NArayanaswamy has conducted extensive research on temples and temple administration. Of these over eighty percent of them are those in a state of impoverishemnt. There are around 20 very large revenue generating temples and around 700 or 800 temples with middling revenue earnings. The government has a beady eye on these temples. Yesterday, I had occasion to offer worship at the Periapalayathamman koil. There are strong indications that the government is planning to take over this temple too. The government waits to see which temples generate a revenue worthy of being controlled and the moment it sees one such temple, like a predatory bird, it swoops on the temple and picks it up. Whatever the government touches withers. Now the government has laid its unholy hands on our temples.
Recently I attended the Kumbhabhishekam in one of our temples. All arrangements were made by the bhaktas themselves,the money for the event was also arranged and mobilised by the bhaktas and yet, the kumbhabhishekam had to be authorised by the government! The Executive Officer, who is employed by the HR&CE ministry but who is paid his salary from temple funds had to be paid one thousand rupees for signing on the form authorising the kumbhabhishekam to be performed. Let me tell you, the bats which hang in the temples, each one, in its previous life must have been a person who had fattened himself on temple property and tample funds. Our temples own agricultural and other land worth tens of thousands of crores. Who is reaping the benefit of it all? Not the temples which continue to remain and destitute and lacklustre. It is being enjoyed by those who enjoy direct or indirect political patronage.
‘Vigil’ has taken up the task of initiating a public debate on the state of our temples. Otherwise who cares? Who cares to pay the slightest attention to our temples? The mosques and churches in Tamil Nadu are prosperous and well kept. But if you happen to see a run-down and dilapidated structure anywhere, you can be assured it is a Hindu temple.
There is a magnificent and beautiful temple in a village called Surutupalli near Oothukottai, where Lord Shiva abides in the very unusual sayanam posture. The Kanchi Paramacharya happened to visit the village and had stayed there a few days. It was only after that the rest of the world knew of the existence of this beautiful and unique temple.
Now coming back to the Minister’s command for temples to adopt temples. The reason being when Churches can run schools, why can’t the Hindu temples? I object to this on two grounds. First, constitutionally, the Hindus of this country do not have the same rights as the minorities when it comes to starting and running educational institutions. The government taxes Hindu schools, has taxed us and bled us dry. You have control over our temples and our temple money. You bleed us dry when we run schools. Then why do you insist that temples should now adopt schools? Having taken over our temples, shouldn’t you be running the schools instead of burdening our temples even more?
And did you all know that if a Hindu wants to start even a primary school, he has to deposit twenty-five thousand rupees with the government, fifty-thousand for middle school and one lakh rupees if I intend to have a high school too. But the secular government, if the Christians and Muslims want to start a school, any school, they do not have to pay a single paisa. This is secularism for you.
We get the government we deserve. At least some Hindus are now waking up to the injustices perpetrated against Hindus and their religious and educational institutions. Let me ask another question of this government. There are so many government departments – health, education, PWD and so on. Let us assume that some money has remained unspent, at the end of one financial year, in one or two of these departments. Considering the fact that so many of our temples are withering for lack of funds, will the government, pass on the surplus money from the PWD, to these temples? If not, then why does it think it is alright to usurp temple funds for running schools or laying roads or to supplement budget deficit? There are so many schools and Karunai Illams which the government runs with money diverted from temple funds. But there is not even an iota of Hindu values of spiritualism in those schools and institutions.
In Thiruchandur, the government has usurped the Thiruchendur temple funds for laying roads on the pretext that these temple funds are being used only to improve facilities in temple towns. It is clear that the government has no responsibility towards Hindu bhaktas. It will not spend any money from government funds for our benefit. Whatever facilities have to be provioded in temple towns or for Hindu bhaktas the government will usurp temple funds to provide the same. As I said earlier, we have only ourselves to blame because one, we dot know the state of disrepair into which our temples have fallen, and two, even when we know it, we do nothing about it.
The government has now constituted an Advisory Board for temple affairs. The names on the Board are impressive. There are good people in it. I wrote to this Board and also issued a statement in the Press. I told them to announce in the newspapers that they will be visiting such and such a district and such and such a temple on this day. G9 and meet the temple devotees there, I told this Board and ask them to tell you about the state of affairs of these temples. Ask them to tell you their grievances with regard to temple worship and temple administration. They have promised to consider my suggestion. If we don’t care for our temples, why should they? The very least we can do is to exert pressure on the government and this Board to set right temple administration. What else can we do? We can begin by going to temples regularly as a family. We can begin to take an interest in its affairs and try to involve ourselves as much as we can in temple work. We may visit all big temples in the hope of receiving some favor from the Gods in return but we should not neglect the temple on our street.we must have as much faith in the deity of the temple in our street as we have in the deities of big temples.
Today is a good occasion to raise another question. Does anyone know what happened to the crores of rupees worth jewellry belonging to several temples? The government says it is in its safe keeping. But how do we know that? Has anybody taken an inventory? Have the findings been made public? Are such inventories made regularly? Recently jewellry worth two crores of rupees was stollen from the Sarangapani temple in Kumbakonam. Temple jewellry and temple ornaments and other articles get stollen regularly. The government has taken all these temples under its control. Then is it not the duty of the government to provide sufficient security to these temples so that such thefts do not occur?
We don’t care. We don’t care when our temples are looted, we don’t care when there is a bomb blast in the meenakshi Amman koil in Madurai. There is a bombblast in madura meenakshi amman temple and nobody even cares. I have asked several great men about the apathy of the Hindu people. The answers of two great men calmed my tormented heart. One was the Kanchi Paramacharya and the other was Krishna Premi swamy. Both of them attributed the apathy of the Hindu community to the absence of leadership. If one elder in the community were to take the responsibility of galvanising the people of his locality, the Hindu community there would come alive.
People go to temples today overcoming innumerable petty difficuties from having to pay for safe keeping of their foot wear to paying parking fee for their vehicles. The idea behind drawing the temple ratha through the streets of the village or the town was to unite all the people of the locality in a common duty performed for the temple. If we have to end caste conflicts, then it is important for all temples to resume the ratha yatra. Hindu bhaktas must ensure that the ratha fectival is celebrated without hurdles to enable all people of the locality to come together. Our minds are united when we serve the temple together. The ratha of the Thiruvaroor temple had not been mobile for several years. We finally got it moving seven years ago. I went to meet the kanchi Paramacharya after the event to seek his blessings for ereviving the ratha yatra of the Thrivadamaruthoor temple. He asked me if I knew that there was a time when every temple had a ratha of its own for precisely the same reason – to bring together all people in the service of the Lord. My intense desire is to see that every temple has its own ratha again, to see that every temple in Tamil Nadu has the resources to perform six poojas a day, every temple must perform the dharma of annadaanam, every temple must perform go-pooja, every temple must have at least a small goshala to care for those cows and other cattle which have served us all their lives.
I was staying in Thiruvanmiyur for a week. The Marundeeswarar koil is being very well cared for by the bhakthas. They have something called the Friday committee. This committee manages the administration very well. They have an excellent goshala where they take very good care of cows and cattle. If the temples of a locality are prosperous and functional, then the locality also becomes prosperous and well. A house that prays together stays together. Similarly if all the town gathers together to meet in the temple and pray together, the country will be united and peaceful.
As Dr.Raman observed earlier, our temples used to act as the dispenser of medicines. It used to be the seat of justice, a literary center, it was also the counseling center where the elders of the village or town would gather and make themselves available to the people who wanted advice or who wanted a pair of ears to vent their sorrow, or to share in their happiness. The elders listen to you compassionately and advise you with great wisdom and you went back feeling lighter in heart.
Temples observed the dharma of annadanam. In times of drought and famine the people would perform annaabhishekam for the presiding deity of the village. Every family would offer some rice for the abhishekam and after the pooja, every individual in the locality, big and small would wait humbly in line to partake of the prasadam. Our temples had something called the ‘annakudi’. The ‘annakudi’ would function until such time the famine or the drought ended and the people could resume their normal lives again. Kerala temples have the ‘ootupirai’ and in the Punjab such feeding centers in the Gurdwara are called ‘langar’. All over India thus you know that our temples and other places of worship performed annadanam. In Karnataka, in Dharmasthala, 15,000 people partake of the prasadam of Lord Manjunatha Swamy everyday.
Temples used to be the center for the learning of Yoga, for listening to religious discourses. Our temples were also the center for all performing arts. We must restore our temples to their traditional role as the heart and soul of our community. For that to happen, we have to take care of our street temples first. Let us adopt those temples which are neglected by the government. The government neglects those temples which do not generate any revenue; let us adopt such temples and make them functional. Temples are the life breath of the Hindu community. If we are ready to accept responsibility for our temples then we have the right to demand that the government step away from temple administration. We have the right to demand that the man who administers our temples must be a person well-versed in the agamas. He must be a man of faith. We must ensure that our religious and cultural values are disseminated and propagated.
I was in Delhi last week and saw a video cassette prepared for those who intend to make the pilgrimage to Kailas-manasarovar. The idea appealed to me. We too should make similar cassettes of our temples and show them to our people, to our children. There is no point in bemoaning the state of our temples. Just as the bhakthas in Thiruvanmiyur have constituted the Friday committee, bhakthas wherever they can must involve themselves in temple affairs and keep a close watch on the government till such time we free our temples from government control. Namaste. …